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NOVEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 11


SPORTS

CURRENT SPORTS

ALSO THIS MONTH
Soft-spoken Canadian CART driver lived and died in the fast lane

RECENT SPORTS
Six Greatest Athletes of the Century - who the other lists forgot
NHL Preview - hockey returns after a controversial Cup

SPORTS ARCHIVE


MARK DEWING, a freelance writer and British expatriate, moved to the U.S.A. partly to experience heavy snowfall, but primarily because he got tired of having to wait until 2:00 a.m. to watch the Super Bowl live. He has worked as a social worker, freelance photographer, tomato picker, mortuary cleaner and bookstore buyer/manager. He most recently worked within the publishing industry as a PR consultant. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and he wishes the Dodgers still lived there too.




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The Mysteries and Peculiarities of Some Foreign Sports Explained...Simply

MARK DEWING

What do brooms, googlys and scrums have in common? Each is a vital aspect of one of three foreign sports. Following on from my theme of last month - on the importance of getting to know the greatest foreign athletes - this month I thought I'd turn to some of the sports of foreign lands. Some of these sports are widely played throughout the world, whilst others are only played in a limited number of nations. To many Americans, little more is know about these sports than their name, and they are rarely argued about over a pitcher of suds in a Chicago sports bar. Yet all three of the sports about which I will to tell you are played on some level in this country too. The homegrown team sports of basketball, football and baseball are too established (through our families, schools, professional leagues, media and sports television) to allow much else into their arena. Besides Americans are damn proud to have their games, as they form a vital part of the national culture, psyche and..ur, insularity. The world's most popular game is still soccer, and that's finally spreading across this land too - thanks primarily now to the amazing Mia Hamm, so I'll skip that one. Let the games begin!

Cricket
Rugby If you see 22 grown men dressed in long white pants and thick wool jumpers (sweaters) running around a field in the middle of summer, hitting and catching a small, and very hard, red ball (the cherry), and congratulating each other with gentle claps and loud "Howzats?!", you are observing a game of cricket. Imagine baseball without balls and strikes, only two bases, no gloves, a harder ball, 110 mph fastballs that bounce up into your meat and two veg, and a shortstop referred to officially as a "silly mid-off".

A good cricket match can take four days of play to reach a result, yet only two innings are played in all that time, and a tie is considered the most satisfactory conclusion. Between the batter and the catcher (wicketkeeper) are the wickets (2-feet-4-inches high and 9 inches wide). These are three narrow wooden stakes with two smaller sticks (bails) on top, and this is what the batter has to protect from the ball - or else he's out. Fielding a catch results in an out also, but remember no gloves - ouch! The bat is flat on one side, which should make hitting easier, but it does not. I once saw Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub) play cricket in London, and he looked very out of sorts, though he (and I) found the whole thing highly amusing. In order to score a run two batters facing each other 22 yards apart, must be on the field at the same time, and cross each other's path while running. A home run is called a "six", but when you hit one you don't run, you remain standing. Pitches (or bowls) are unlimited, so the same batter can be at the crease (in position) for several hours. He doesn't even have to swing if he doesn't want to.

Winning, is perceived by the English as rather bad form, and somewhat embarrassing to your opponent, who after all went to the trouble of showing up, and sharing a cuppa with you during the mandatory tea interval, and a warm beer after the match. One constant source of national shame is that although England invented the game, all her former colonies are much better at it than they are. Australia, whom the English always accuse of playing too rough, is the only country in the world where young lads grow up playing both cricket and baseball. The term "googly" sounds rather frightening, but it actually just refers to a decent breaking ball. Cricket like baseball has its own unique language.

Curling
Rugby The Scots invented golf, and for this we are grateful. Odd then that they should also have invented curling. This is a game that makes synchronized swimming seem breathtakingly exciting. Imagine boccie ball on ice played really, really slowly. 44-pound smooth stones are gently slid down a 46-yard ice track, and then everybody starts sweeping like army privates. Very weird. The frantic brushing scuffs up the ice, and this increases the speed and accuracy of the throw. It's quite popular in Upper Wisconsin and Canada and was exhibited in the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Rugby
Rugby Hard to believe now that this game is the bulb from which sprang forth football, but it did. The players wear no protection and their shirts are often mud-splattered and torn after only a few minutes of play. After the match drinking enormous quantities of beer is greatly encouraged as an extension of team solidarity. If you observe what looks like a roman legion going into combat formation, this is the scrum. The scrum is a cross between a soccer throw-in and a basketball jump ball, and involves a wedge of six forwards, who try to advance the ball with their feet whilst their arms are locked together like sumo wrestlers. Teams are made up of 15 players who remain on the field for the entire match, and thus have to play as not only offense and defense, but special teams as well.

The ball cannot be thrown forward, but any throw backwards can be caught by anyone on your team, even if it bounces off the ground. Usually a whole chain of guys on the run, keep passing it down a line, like Victorian firefighters passing the water bucket. Scoring is hard, since all 15 opponents will be after you at the same time, and tackling is only allowed on the ball carrier. Touchdowns are called "trys" and sprinting across the goal line isn't enough, since the ball must touch the ground with the player still holding onto it, in order to score. Deion Sanders don't go for that.

The English invented it, but once again I'm afraid their former colonies of New Zealand and South Africa are the world's greatest teams. Earlier this century all Welsh coal mines had teams, and it soon became their national game. "Rugger" was actually given rules at Rugby School in the early Victorian era. The discipline and team spirit were considered an excellent regime for the young English gentleman, and a venting alternative to school bullying (read Tom Brown's School Days). The Rugby World Cup - held only every 4 years - is just concluding right now. The US Eagles - seemingly inspired by their soccer compatriots of last year - lost all three of their games and were outscored 135-52. At least they didn't finish dead last, that honor belonged to Italy and Namibia.

The Game's Afoot!
Have I peeked your interest? Interested in playing these games? Check out these sports' US based official web sites, and the most entertaining alternative sites:

Curling Official US Site: www.usacurl.org
Curling Alternative: home.istar.ca/~rockroll/curling.html

Rugby Official US Site: www.usarugby.org
Rugby Alternative: www.rugbyheaven.com.au - This is the joint offbeat site of an Australian newspaper and a New Zealander newspaper.

Cricket Official US Site: www.uscf.org - Read about the internal strife created by the two feuding US national cricket organizations!
Cricket Alternative: www.cricketunlimited.co.uk - Produced by England's Guardian newspaper, and Wisdens (the cricket equivalent of Baseball Weekly)

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